Eumaios Well Stay
Not long did Odysseus rest upon her own shore when gently blowing sea grass bent to touch her face, waking her. With a start she sat up supported by her elbows and looked about. "Where am I?" she thought in bewilderment, "The Phaiakians have not abandoned me and taken back their gifts, have they? I could not imagine it of such good-hearted people."
Standing, Odysseus could see further into the cave whose mouth she laid near. The gold stored within its depths glittered as brightly as the morning touched waves. No, the Phaiakians were an honest lot, but why leave her here? Odysseus sat down hard in the sand. She covered her face with her hands and began to cry. "What misery is this? Am I to be thwarted once more in my travels to embrace husband and child?"
Nearby a shepherd appeared, a young man with long smooth limbs and luminous grey eyes. In his hand he held a staff made of two intertwining wild pear branches that formed a tall dark golden braid. Odysseus noticed the fellow on a grassy knoll when the sun glinted off his white tunic. "Hey, hey you!" she called out. The young man approached. "Sir, can you please tell me what country is this and who are its people? Is this an island or some part of the mainland?"
"You mean you don't know?" asked the shepherd. "You must be some sort of clueless newbie not to recognise this place. This isn't some sort of wasteland without a domain name. The ground is too rocky for training horses, but excellent pasturage is everywhere for goats and oxen. We also have wondrous fertile soil and make some of the finest wine anywhere. The world at least as far as Troy knows that Ithaka is the place to come for a proper knees up."
"You mean to say, I am in Ithaka?"
"Of course," retorted the shepherd.
Odysseus began laughing. She laughed so hard that she fell over in tears. "Then I am home!" cried Odysseus. And through her water filled eyes Odysseus found the shepherd was not as she first perceived him. Phe was a brilliant light inside a nearly transparent glowing sphere, but only for moments between laughs.
"Have faith Odysseus, you were always meant to return home," said the shepherd/deity, "Your treasure is safe. Disguise yourself now as a tramp and go through the copse ahead to your left. You will find your retainer, Eumaios the swineherd's, hut. Make no further plans until you get there." The being then disappeared.
Odysseus tore her clothes and smudged her face, then took up the staff left by that deity who she felt must have been Athena. Joyously she headed toward her dear old friend's house. It now seemed perfectly clear where she was and she could enjoy remembering, "why yes I hunted wild geese upon that hill, and I remember that is where I used to go skinny dipping as a teenager."
The sun had not crept far above the horizon when she came in sight of the swineherd's pig enclosures. The dogs not knowing Odysseus came after her barking and growling. Like an old beggar Odysseus plumped herself down with arms over her face, so that hopefully they would only get mouths full of rags. Eumaios came running from one of the enclosures shouting at the dogs and throwing rocks.
"Get away you mongrels!" he shouted. "I am terribly sorry, madam. They are trained to fend off any threat to the hogs. But buggeritall, they can't always distinguish between a threat and a visitor. Please, may I invite you into my home for a cuppa and perhaps some breakfast if you haven't eaten yet?" Eumaios picked Odysseus up and led her to his hut and its kitchen. Inside he offered to wash any marks the dogs may have made which she declined. He then began preparing a kettle followed by the fixings for eggs, baked apples and sausages.
"We don't usually greet strangers in that way. I just happened to be away from the dogs for a moment. So tell me, who are you and where are you from?" asked Eumaios.
Odysseus looked carefully into Eumaios' eyes for a moment, then answered, "I am the daughter of a slave and the wealthy gentleman, Kastor Hylakides of Krete. I was beloved of my father and yet when the Trojan Wars began he agreed to let me go and fight with the Akhaians. I survived the war. In fact I had even earned great honours and had treasures to bring home with me. Sadly, on the way home my ship was taken by pirates and I too was made a slave.
"For many years I was passed from owner to owner, then only yesterday the boat I was serving landed here in Ithaka and I managed to escape my bonds. This morning I began my trek inland and found you. I must beg of you to please direct me to the sovereign of this country, Odysseus, for I heard that she was on her way home and would no doubt be here by now. I must seek her protection."
Eumaios snorted, "Odysseus? Don't we all just wish. She's been gone many years now and we still have neither seen nor heard from her. We could certainly use that beloved ruler about now, given how foully certain upstarts have been treating her home and family. She has a daughter Telemakhe who, as far as I'm concerned, is the acting regent. Certain young men wish to use Odysseus' daughter in order to take Ithaka under their own control. You will need to speak with Telemakhe, who at this moment has also disappeared, if you wish protection."
A few moments of awkward silence followed Eumaios' statement, Eumaios looking somewhat forlorn for such a grizzled old hand. The quiet was then broken by the noise of the dogs, but this time they sounded as if they were happily yapping at a long time friend. Eumaios gazed out the open door to see what the matter could be now and dropped with a crash the jug and bowl he held in his hands.
In a flash he sped to the door and embraced an athletic young woman standing there covered in fawning dogs. "We were all so worried, it's good to see you home safe and sound," said Eumaios.
"You needn't have worried about me. I was always a tough little girl," said the woman laughing with pleasure.
"Come sit down and have breakfast," said Eumaios shuffling swiftly to the fire and scooping up fat pork sausages and baked apple rings onto a plate for her, "I have a guest hailing from Krete joining us. Her timing has proven good since she seeks your protection on Ithaka. Madam," spoke Eumaios to Odysseus, "This is our wondrous Telemakhe."
Telemakhe shook her head, "It is a pleasure to meet you, but this is just about the worst time for me to entertain. And it is driving me bonkers being so ill prepared to follow through on the laws of hospitality. Protection! I can hardly protect myself. I am young and without proper training in arms. Dad is an artist, not a fighter. Mother is who knows where. For the last several years my home has been infested with rich, ill-mannered suitors who have invited themselves into its courts at my family's expense. They all expect to take me in marriage, they all expect to rule Ithaka.
"Eumaios, if you will see to this stranger, I will happily send wine and bread for her care. I shall also send along a warm winter cloak, tunic, sandals and a broadsword as my gifts to her. I am afraid that the castle is a dangerous place to be with those drunken scoundrels about."
Odysseus looked surprised, "Have you no friends or family to put rout to such ruffians? Has there been an oracle to ward your people off from helping you in this dilemma?"
"I am my mother's only child, she was her father's only child. So, I don't really have family in abundance. My friends have been kind enough to help me recently on a journey for news of my mother, but I suppose I am my father's daughter in that I hesitate to ask that they lay down their lives for me. As to the people of Ithaka, my mother ruled them so well, that I don't think they understand the threat," Telemakhe replied.
She turned to Eumaios and asked, "We've got to tell Dad and Granpa I'm back, but quietly, so as not to stir up the suitors before I am ready. They must have been even more worried than yourself as to my whereabouts and safety. Could you take a message to them?"
"I think that's a very wise move, girlie. I'll be off immediately," said Eumaios. He then tied on his sandals, picked up a cane and called two of his dogs to him.
As he walked out the gate Odysseus could see the same deity she saw earlier that day hovering near its posts. No one else seemed to notice, but not only could Odysseus see Athena, she could hear per beckoning. Without hesitation Odysseus left to join per.
"Odysseus, that is your daughter," said the grey-eyed deity, "Now is the time to reveal yourself." Odysseus looked uncertain, but Athena nodded her on. So, she returned to the hut.
Odysseus held out her hands in a gesture of defenselessness to her daughter. "I have something to tell you, Telemakhe. I can only hope that you will believe me when I say that I am your mother, Odysseus."